5 artists on the songs that get them through hard times

Primary tabs

From Toto to Radiohead, these are some of the songs that can help when times are tough.

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day where we spend extra time focusing on our mental wellbeing and talking about how overcoming mental issues that can often feel completely crippling.

Given that music is such a powerful emotional force, its impact on our mental health ought not be understated. Sometimes, nothing feels more comforting than listening to tragically gloomy music when you’re in a bad place. Other times, you need something bright and perky to help lift you out of a slump.

It’s never the ultimate solution, but music can often be a pretty great help.

Some of our favourite Australian artists – Dan Sultan, Ainslie Wills, Kevin Mitchell, Mama Kin and Alexander Gow – have given us some time to talk about how music helps them when they’re struggling.

As you’ll tell from their musical choices, there’s no rhyme or reason to what music works best when times are tough. But each of these songs definitely have a certain power to them. 

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Dan Sultan

Music has helped me when I have been having a bit of a rough time, or ups and downs. I find it's good to be able to write about it and get it out of your head. I find if I am not in a spot where I am writing anything, it's good to listen to songs that have already been writing. You can kind of put yourself in that spot and it can be pretty cathartic. 

I think sometimes it is easier to write about doing something or handling something in a particular way, rather than actually doing it. And that can be a positive, it can be a negative as well. but I think it can help most of the time. 

One song in particular that helps me get through some tough times is ‘Africa’ by Toto. It always makes me smile. There's no particular deep reason or it doesn't have to be particularly meaningful, as long as it can just make you smile when you are otherwise not, I think that's a powerful thing. 

Ainslie Wills

Music is my medicine. And I use it all of the time to help navigate through certain situations that I might be experiencing in my life.

I think it's particularly incredible in that it has an ability to help us articulate moods and express feelings that we might be experiencing first-hand, but in that moment, we don't always know how to let go of those feelings or find resolution or resolve. Music is that tool that helps us find clarity.

For me, personally, when I am feeling a little cloudy in the head, and need to find some clarity - which happens quite often -- I'll listen to something like Radiohead's ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ from OK Computer. That song, and its whole sonic landscape, just transports me to a different place for that duration. It's almost like I am hovering above where I am currently at and I am able to look at things a little bit more clearly. 

Kevin Mitchell

Music helps me when I am having a rough time; it helps me when I am having a good time. Music is a constant part of my life and has been for years, it's like a friend that I can turn to whenever I need it. There is always a soundtrack that can accompany whatever mood I am going through.

If I’m having a rough time, sometimes it's good to listen to music that helps you embrace that tough time, and feel it properly and process it, and deal with it properly. Sometimes I like to, when I get sad, just listen to really, really sad music.

One particular song I like to listen to when I get down, and the whole record [2002’s Sea Change] is good for this, is Beck’s 'Guess I'm Doing Fine'. It's just so beautifully bittersweet. It just seems to be the right accompaniment. When I am feeling down, or sad, I really like to just embrace it and just live in it for a while.

Sometimes you need to perk yourself up, but I feel like I just need to go through it and see it through to the end, and a song like this is the perfect soundtrack to that.

Mama Kin

Music helps me in lots of ways. I find if I am feeling quite down, the practice of putting on music as soon as I wake up in the morning, is generally just a lift around the house for me.

Also the process of writing music, the focus of setting a time aside, sitting down and creatively crafting something – whether it be the writing process, or the spending time with my instrument – I always come away from it feeling shifted somewhat.

I think having something to focus on apart from the way you're feeling sometimes can be a really great tool to get through to the other side. 

I also think just having certain songs that give you reflection of the way you're feeling. Sometimes, rather than putting on happy songs, I need songs that really reflect that I am feeling a bit down, and that allow me to access it in a different way.

Or it might just be the flick of the switch that I need to open that gateway of emotion that I may have been afraid of or may have been avoiding. Sometimes the avoiding of an emotion can really create a mental health block for me. 

Sometimes I just need to hear a writer who is expressing their stuff in a way that really resonates with me. And sometimes that might be Joan Armatrading, sometimes that might be Joan As Police Woman, sometimes that might be Gillian Welch, sometimes that might be Tinpan Orange.

I would say that when I really in that space, I am looking for a feeling writer who has the ability of writing in a particular way that really reaches me and then delivering that in a way that I feel meets the vulnerability that I am feeling. 

Alexander Gow

Personally, when I feel that way, I think it's important to lean into it, not to ignore or to deny it. I think the best thing to do is to make an attempt to understand it and embrace it, because it is very human and very normal. We are not possums in a tree eating flowers. Lean into it, embrace it, and then process it, and then do what you can to avoid it happening again. 

Music-wise, I'll start off with something a little slow and smooth, like Roberta Flack's 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'. Then I'll move into something that implies it's happy by its disco rhythms, but essentially is quite melancholy as well, with Candi Staton's 'Young Hearts Run Free', and then finish off with an all-out finger dancer to 'Dancing Queen' by ABBA.

Open